Besides being an annoyance, untreated seasonal allergies can increase your risk of other problems.
If you’ve ever had seasonal allergies, you might already know the telltale signs: a runny nose, congestion and watery eyes. A dust allergy is slightly different and, in some ways, worse — think wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest.
Though often experienced in the springtime, some allergies can be year-round. With constant allergies, you might feel like you have a cold that lasts forever. This can negatively impact not only your physical health but also your mental health.
“Allergies have been shown to affect patients’ quality of life, usually through increased fatigue, irritability and sometimes increased anxiety or depression,” said Elisabeth Ference, MD, assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and an otolaryngologist at Keck Medicine of USC.
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The inflammation from unchecked allergies can block your sinuses, leading to congestion, headaches and a postnasal drip. And, with prolonged exposure, you may experience bacterial and fungal sinus and ear infections repeatedly, since allergic reactions may weaken your immune system.
Untreated, allergies can even have asthma-like symptoms, especially if they affect your airways. The same release of histamines that causes a runny nose and watery eyes could bring on shortness of breath and wheezing, known as allergic asthma. This inflammation over a long period of time may even result in hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or chronic lung inflammation.
Most problems are reversible with treatment, according to Dr. Ference. So pursuing treatment for allergies is essential, whether they’re seasonal or caused by dust.
First, if you know you tend to get allergies in the spring, begin taking an over-the-counter antihistamine or using a nasal spray before you even experience symptoms. And if you notice more serious symptoms, such as disturbed sleep, inability to participate in daily activities, missing work or school or decreased ability to make decisions, see a doctor.
Allergies are easier to prevent than they are to treat, so preemptive action is essential. Try to limit your time outside (and therefore minimize your exposure to pollen) by moving your workouts indoors. Keep your windows closed — and the AC on, if needed — and your home clean. As for dust allergies, remove anything that can harbor dust or dust mites, such as carpeting, and wash your linens in very hot water at least once a week.
These steps may sound drastic, but it’s worth it when you consider how nice a sneeze-free spring would be — as well as the long-term risks of not treating your allergies.
by Deanna Pai
The USC Asthma, Allergy and Clinical Immunology Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles provides specialized care for a wide variety of conditions. Call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment to schedule an appointment.